“A Continual Course Correction” A Devotion for Lent

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.02.37 PM“A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.” —Matthew 21:28,29

Repentance has long been an important theme for Lent, but many are put off by the idea since it seems to demand one big life-changing event. A friend of mine had a big poster on his wall that said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” In small print at the bottom it said, “If you have already repented, please disregard this notice.”

But I contend that we should never disregard that notice since repenting is something we must do again and again and again throughout our lives.

The Greek word we translate as “repent” simply means to change direction. The son in today’s parable repented of his first answer. He changed his mind and did what his father asked him. He started out in the wrong direction, but finally turned to the right one.

I have come to view the Christian life as a continual process of course correction. Our instincts are often wrong, our decisions often bad, and we easily get off course. We hurt others; we hurt ourselves.

But the good news is that God loves us enough to want us to get back on track. Like a GPS of the soul, God’s love keeps beckoning us to come home, and in our several turnings find our way back to God.

Prayer: O God, keep us ever turning and returning toward you. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the one who called himself “the Way.”

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for March 19, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“First Things First”

first-things-first“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” —1 Corinthians 3:11

My secular friends sometimes ask me, “Why the church?”

I hear myself come up with different answers at different times. “Because of the community.” They say, “Couldn’t you just join a book group?”

“Because of the morality and ethics, and the passion for justice.” They say, “There are lots of decent, ethical, moral people outside the church.”

They are quite right. There are many groups that do many of the things the church does, and some of them do it better. I think Twelve-Step programs often foster better community and personal transformation than the church does.

I think many organizations working for peace and justice, and for protecting the environment, are better organized and more efficient than the church in doing this vital work.

And I admit that the church can be a maddening place, slow-footed for needed change, too often liberal on matters that should be conserved, and conservative about things that should be shaken up. My love for the church is not blind.

But my best answer to the question, “Why the church?” is simply, “Jesus Christ.” He is the one unique, distinctive thing that the church has that nobody else does. I find that after a lifetime in the church the compelling figure of Jesus Christ in all his complexity and incomprehensibility still engages me deeply.

Paul knew this when he employed a building metaphor to say that Christ is the only foundation on which the church can rest. Without Christ the church risks becoming a religious voluntary association with a big list of good causes. The truth is that Christ is the “why” for those causes.

“Why the church?” Jesus Christ is the “why!”

Prayer: Always keep your church, O God, on the solid foundation that you have laid for us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for February 19, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“The Seven Last Words of the Church”

seven-last-words“Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8

Some of the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus as to why his disciples had not washed their hands before eating, as was “the custom of the elders.” He chastised them for their slavish devotion to custom, while neglecting their relationship with God.

Our customs and traditions are important for institutional continuity and for doing things in the church “decently and in order.” But customs followed for their own sake can stifle needed change and quench the flame of the Spirit. Continue reading

“Our Nation of Immigrants”

strangers“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” —Deuteronomy 10:19

The various summaries of the law in the Bible include strangers as people to be especially cared for. Whether we call them sojourners, immigrants or aliens they need help because they are frequently socially powerless. Continue reading

“Looking for Light in the Shadow of Death” A Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

shadow

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

The “Shadow of Death.” That doesn’t sound very good, does it?

I asked Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield about the phrase and he said it is quite literally “shadow of death” in Hebrew. He said it is a colloquial saying and means something like “mortal peril.” We are all acquainted with that image from the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Two of the traditional themes for the Epiphany season are “light shining in the darkness” and the “calling to Christian discipleship,” and I hope to combine them today. Continue reading

“Helping those who have no helper”

helper“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”
—Psalm 72: 12

Psalm 72 begins “Give the king your justice, O God.” It implies that justice is a God-given matter, and though in our time we have no king, the seeking of justice remains one of the marks of authentic government. Continue reading